Album: Impermanent Resonance
Genre: Progressive Metal
These are calmer times. However things weren’t that way the last time James LaBrie, best known as the lead singer for prog-metal icons Dream Theater released a solo album. In 2010, only a few weeks before the release of Static Impulse, the founding drummer of Dream Theater left the band shaking the foundations of the fan base and the genre. Since then James and Dream Theater have renewed their success both in the studio and on the road, and through it all a new studio album has found its way to the surface.
Impermanent Resonance will certainly draw a few comparisons to the aforementioned Static Impulse, however there is certainly evolution here, and not an AC/DC style carbon copy of previous albums. One fantastic example of this is in the harsh vocals of drummer Peter Wildoer on the two albums. On Static Impulse his vocals were a surprise to many and very much jumped out of the music at times. The new album should do a good job of pleasing those who enjoy the harsher vocals, while being less alienating to those who don’t. While the amount they are used on the two albums is comparable, they are lower in the mix and used in a less jarring manner, especially after the first two tracks. The album’s first track and lead single “Agony” features a vocaltradeoffbetween LaBrie and Wildoerduring the verses, starting with Wildoer. While I’m still baffled why such a high profile track would start with vocals from someone other than LaBrie, it is a fast and energetic kick start to the album with excellent soloing from guitarist Marco Sfogli that gives a good indication of what to expect from the heavier selections going forward.
The next track, “Undertow” and continues to showcase the heavier elements of the album, while seeming to tradeoff a bit of bite from the last album for a more polished final product. And while I’m sure prog fans especially will debate the usefulness of Wildoer’s vocals up to this point, I don’t think anyone will question that he continues to bring his A game behind the kit. The heavier sections in particular showcase the Swedish sensation’s ability. The fourth track, “Back on the Ground” has a structure and beautiful vocal melodies of a power ballad, but one that, at times, goes on steroids and turns up the power aspect to 11. In a perfect world I think a track like this could see significant radio airplay.
“I Got You” is a straight forward rocker with a strong and melodic chorus that features a variety of electronic elements in the background that have been noticeable since 2005’s Elements of Persuasion album, though they are again more refined and less obvious on this track and album. Much of the same can be said of the next track, “Holding On” with the addition of another fantastic guitar solo from Sfogli. The next few tracks take their foot of the gas a tad, focusing on LaBrie’s vocals, especially on “Destined to Burn” during which many long time fans will enjoy the soaring vocals, most notably on the chorus.
“Say You’re Not Mine” starts out with piano and soft, warm vocals from LaBrie, reminiscent of “Coming Home” from LaBrie’s last album, and it a welcomed break in style from the rest of the album till that point. However unlike “Coming Home” the track picks up, leaving the album lacking any true softer ballads. The following track, “Amnesia” is similarly structured, with softer sections which really contrast well against the chorus that manages to end with harsh vocals from Wildoer that don’t seem at all out of place.
The final track on the album, “I Will Not Break” returns fully to the sound at the start of the album with its aggressive start, especially in the drums. And for those in Europe, or who can get their hands on the European release of the album will be treated to two bonus tracks. The first of which, “Unraveling”, treats the listener to a softer sound, especially in the first half of the song, that will serve as a nice counterpoint to what came before it. Finally “Why” ensures that no matter which version of the album you get it will end by leaving your blood boiling for more.
While LaBrie’s fantastic vocals, Wildoer’s drumming, and Sfogli’s excellent guitar work, both lead and solo all help make this album what it is, the standout star is keyboardist Matt Guillory. Not because the keyboard work itself is anything overly complex or groundbreaking, but simply because as the primary composer it was his work that made this album work. Wildoer’s vocals were better incorporated into the music and the keyboards were a perfect example of how to add texture and an extra gear to what is primarily a guitar driven metal album. While the polish of this album does make it a slightly tamer to the ears compared to Static Impulse, it does serve to help draw out and highlight the many memorable melodic moments of the album. Picking favorite tracks is difficult, but for the right reason, as much of the album rises to a very high level.
Fans of LaBrie as a vocalist will not be disappointed in this album, nor will those who have been fans of the other two LaBrie releases. Where fans rank the album will likely be determined by preference in style. Whereas Elements of Persuasion put electronic elements in the forefront, and Static Impulse highlighted punch and aggression this album blends everything together well with perhaps the best guitar work throughout it all to date.
Nick’s Rating: A (9/10)
Dr. DTVT’s Review
Expectations are something that cannot be ignored when discussing follow up albums. Going into their previous album, Static Impulse, fan expectations were for something akin to the Mullmuzzler albums and even more towards Elements of Persuasion. Static Impulse provided a big curve, with Peter Wildoer taking some of the vocal duties. The fan response was rather split – some didn’t mind or even liked Wildoer’s vocal contribution, and those who weren’t a fan of that style to begin with, or were more casual fans who simply saw the name “James LaBrie” were upset to various degrees. I was in the former category, as I can and do enjoy extreme metal and harsh vocals, so it was a welcome addition.
To remind people, James’s name is in the forefront to serve one purpose: sell more albums. He has the name recognition and star power in the genre that is going to draw in the casual prog fan who doesn’t keep track of side projects and smaller details. Perhaps a more proper way to think of a JLB album is a different band that JLB also fronts where he can scratch musical itches with other like minded musicians that he cannot scratch in Dream Theater. Peter Wildoer, Matt Guillory, Marco Sfogli, Peter Wichers, and Ray Reindeau are all important partners; with Guillory and Wicher’s fingerprints all over the sound.
For those who weren’t thrilled about Peter’s vocals, they are still there. However, they are less in forefront and blended in much better so they are not as jarring if you are not accustomed to them. While I have not counted instances, they also seem to be in the album a lot less, particularly after the first two tracks. Between their lessened use and previous experience – you’re expecting them this time – you should find the harsh vocals more easily digestable if they are not up your alley. And if you like them, you’ll find that, as with most things, things improve with time and practice, and Peter’s vocal talents are much better utilized this time around.
Musically, while JLB is moving toward a more aggressive style than he sings in DT, Peter shows he can move toward less aggressive music than his normal outfit, Darkane, showcasing talents he doesn’t use as often in Darkane. Peter’s drumming is just another exhibit in the case against this being James LaBrie’s showcase, and not the proper band it is. Sfogli gets his due in guitar solos, showcasing himself for a nice gig down the road. Matt Guillory once again shows his chops on keys and in the song writing department – which is always been a strength of his going back to his Dali’s Dilemma days. Peter Wichers’ production is a large reason why this album sounds so good. LaBrie, Guillory, and Sfogli have been together for all three James LaBrie albums, and this time have found a balance between using punch and aggression that Wildoer and Wichers bring with the smoother melodic qualities that LaBrie and Guillory have demonstrated in their past work, as well as incorporating the strengths others bring to the table. The sonic compromise makes this a very polished sounding record.
While sonically it sounds polished, one of the reasons it sounds so good is the song writing. Impermanent Resonance features some of the catchiest choruses I’ve seen in prog in quite a while. While Static Impulse was nice, very few parts of it stuck with me after listening. Impermanent Resonance doesn’t leave you looking for the lyrics in the liner notes. In feels like Guillory took everything they teach in creative writing classes to make prose memorable and applied it all – alliteration, rhyming, variations on a theme, familiar themes. After a few listens, this album began to feel like an old favorite shirt, comfortable and it fits just right.
As I said earlier, the album’s first two tracks are the heaviest. The middle tracks are the catchiest and most accessible to the non-prog crowd, which Wildoer’s vocals get dropped into the mix and are complementary to the music as opposed to primary to the music. There are not really any weak tracks, and the trio of “Agony”, “Back On the Ground”, and “Lost In the Fire” I would initially call my three favorite tracks, and a good indicator of the variety on the album – the first being an aggressive track, the second having a upbeat sound, and the third having a fantasy feeling with the electronics. “Say You’re Still Mine” is as good of a ballad as “Coming Home” was on Static Impulse, and the bonus track “Why” will be well worth the pickup for the overseas crowd.
Impermanent Resonance took everything from a very solid Static Impulse, and improved on it. Whereas I burned out on Static Impulse within a few months, I don’t see that happening with Impermanent Resonance – if anything I would say it is going to have quite a permanent resonance. I’m very stingy with grades, so when I give this album an A-, keep in mind that I gave my album of the year last year an A- as well. While I don’t see this as a classic album, it is never the less an excellent example of what melodic death metal can be and hopefully can serve as a gateway album for those looking to accept harsher singing.
Dr. DTVT’s grade: A-